Patricia Clarkson, Feb. 22, 2015
Actress Patricia Clarkson arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California, Feb. 22, 2015. Reuters/Danny Moloshok

After a streak of short films and occasional features, Canadian director Ruba Nadda broke out with a movie about a Muslim woman who falls in love with a white man against her family’s wishes. The culture conflict in “Sabah” gave way to the filmmaker’s next critically acclaimed hit, “Cairo Time,” starring Patricia Clarkson. The duo is again collaborating in Nadda’s new drama, “October Gale.”

The film follows protagonist Helen Matthews as she struggles to put her life back together after the untimely death of her husband. Secluded from the world in a remote cabin in the woods, her quest for peace is shattered when a deadly family feud arrives on her doorstep. In these circumstances, she must fight to survive both her grief and her unknown attackers.

The movie represents a stylistic change for Nadda. Unlike her earlier focus on relationships, “October Gale” explores the isolating grief of a woman mourning her husband’s sudden death. “October Gale” is also much more action-oriented than some of her previous work, meaning that Helen fights physical and emotional pain to survive. The sun only shines in her memories, because it was a storm that claimed her husband, and it’s a storm that threatens her safety now.

Nadda spoke in an interview about the inspiration behind “October Gale,” the self-sustaining power of women and the bright future she has planned after the storm.

International Business Times: “October Gale” is such a departure from your earlier romantic dramas. What inspired you to make that decision?

Ruba Nadda: With any movie that I tackle, the first and foremost is the character. I always thought of Helen first and how she was in this predicament of losing this very big presence in her life. I saw her as very strong and independent with a big career. For me, it was always a story about her grief, and what would it look like for a woman like this at an age like this? When we think about movie grief, we think of women who are a little older or younger. What’s interesting for me was that this woman was in her early 50s and was looking forward to the next chapter of her life with this man. For me, it’s this character that comes and takes over my life.

I’m also Canadian, so two hours from Toronto, we have this remote rugged terrain where people have cottages. When you’re caught in a storm [there], it’s quite crazy. So I thought, ‘What if you’re a woman out there, by yourself?’ I was interested in a story where a woman saves herself, even when these men show up.

IBTimes: She kind of has to survive these men who invade her life.

Nadda: Someone once told me when you go through grief, [it] feels like you’re being cooked in a frying pan. What was interesting for Patricia and I was that at this point, this character’s got nothing to lose. Does she want to survive this? Does she care? How does she not rely on someone else to get her out of this grief and physical danger?

IBTimes: You also made her a doctor in the story ...

Nadda: Yeah, I got wind of a woman who was living in this area in her mid-70s and her husband passed away. I remember being told this story and how independent she was all by herself in these rugged, horrible winters. She would carry the generator to her cottage by herself. It’s amazing what a woman can do when forced into these situations. Everyone in the area knew she was a doctor as well, so they would come to her with their problems.

IBTimes: You’ve worked with Patricia Clarkson on a few projects now. What’s your working relationship been like?

Nadda: She’s a brilliant actor. With something like this movie grief, you want something that can seep into your bones. She’s the kind of actor that, with a flicker of her eye, you care. She’s incredibly subtle. This movie was an incredibly difficult shoot. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have money to create a storm in post [production]. We were caught in last year’s worst winter of our lives. We decided to just film the storms. We would shoot inside until a storm came out and then we would go shoot outside. There’s no way I could have pulled that off with just anyone. We have a great level of trust. She knew I had her back.

This would be three-for-three now. I’m developing a show for HBO that would star Patricia, as well. It’s also very different, deeply romantic. Hopefully no storms or freezing waters.

IBTimes: Is there a genre you’d like to tackle next?

Nadda: For me, it’s not necessarily about genre, it’s about character. These characters are ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations. The next thing I’m doing with HBO is in a deeply political world, but it’s still romantic. I just don’t think about it like that. My characters become the genre.